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Alisdair Gray (Alisdair James Gray) Biography

(1934– ), (Alisdair James Gray), Lanark, 1982, Janine, tour-de-force

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Francis Edward Grainger Biography to Thomas Anstey Guthrie Biography

Scottish novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, born in Glasgow, educated at Glasgow Art School. Prior to the publication of his 1981 novel Lanark, Gray lived mostly by teaching, painting, and writing and was best known for his lavish portraits and murals, and for more than a dozen television, radio, and stage plays. He has since become the outstanding figure in a Glasgow literary renaissance that also includes his friends James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, and Tom Leonard. His second novel, 1982, Janine (1984), is a tour-de-force combination of fantasy and political polemic taking place inside the head of ‘Jock McLeish’, an alcoholic security consultant holed up in a hotel bedroom; memories of school punishments and first love interchange with episodes of bondage, and diatribes on ‘the matter of Scotland’, the reverie frequently being interrupted by ‘God’ and other voices represented by graphic use of typeface. Gray's shorter fiction, often funny and fantastical, is gathered in Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983)—including ‘Five letters from an Eastern Empire’, a masterly allegory set in Imperial China—Lean Tales (1985), and Ten Tales Tall and True (1993). A verse collection, Old Negatives (1989), and two novellas, The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1985) and McGrotty and Ludmilla (1990)—both previously plays—emerged out of a period in which he largely adapted already written material. This was also the case with his least well-received book, Something Leather (1990), whose pornographic passages attracted adverse reaction. Poor Things (1992) is another unlikely story, written in the form of Victorian memoirs ‘edited’ by Gray, concerning the surgeon ‘Godwin Baxter’ and his creation ‘Bella’. In keeping with Gray's total authorship of his books, it has illustrations, a section of notes commenting on the text and its purported social history, exuberant pastiches, and even mock blurbs and reviews on the cover. A collection of informative essays on The Arts of Alisdair Gray was published in 1991.

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